5 Reflections on the Life of Cliff Barrows

By   •   November 22, 2016

Cliff Barrows was on his honeymoon when he met Billy Graham in 1945. For the next six decades, Mr. Barrows served as music director for Billy Graham Crusades across the globe.

“… Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.”
—1 Chronicles 28:20

That was one of Cliff Barrows’ favorite verses, his wife, Ann, shared at his memorial service Tuesday.

“I hate to say just one because he treasured so many, but 1 Chronicles 28:20 was so meaningful to him, and he shared it with so many people.”

It brought comfort and strength during his 93 years of life, and at his funeral, hundreds gathered because of what Mr. Barrows meant to them.

>> Share your thoughts and memories on the Cliff Barrows memorial page

Known for his lively hand motions directing massive choirs and his ability to quote Scripture at any given time, Mr. Barrows radiated joy through every stage of life, even as his mobility and eyesight failed in later years. He also kept a sense of humor.

He once joked with Billy Graham: “When we get to heaven, you’re going to be out of a job, but Bev Shea and I won’t. We’ll go on singing.” Mr. Graham replied, “When I get to heaven, I am going to sing like Bev Shea.”

Mr. Barrows kept singing until the end. Here are five reflections from those who attended his public memorial service:

A Special Gift

Any worship pastor would be nervous to have Cliff Barrows in the audience, but Mr. Barrows would be the first to put him at ease.

That’s how Christina remembers it when her husband, Terry, led worship at Mount Vernon Baptist. Mr. Barrows became a member of the church after he married Ann, who already attended there.

“His special gift was encouragement. Everybody knew that,” Christina said.

Christina’s father and Ann’s first husband (who passed away of cancer), used to work together. Christina has known the Barrows family for a long time and said she’s always been impressed by Mr. Barrows’ “incredible humility” and reflection of Christ.

“You’d say, ‘How are you?’ and he’d just start quoting Scripture,” she said.

Her husband still has a devotional that Mr. Barrows gave him for Christmas once—Grace for the Moment by Max Lucado—and still cherishes it to this day.

—Christina Valentine Adams

‘He Didn’t Just Direct the Choir’

Fred was a seminary student in 1957 when he joined the choir for Billy Graham’s New York City Crusade. The record-breaking Crusade lasted 16 weeks.

“I was there every single night,” he said.

He remembers practicing under Mr. Barrows’ leadership: “He was very energetic and he wanted it to be just perfect. … He worked us hard.”

But it was more than waving his arms behind the pulpit. “He didn’t just direct the choir; he put everything into it.”

Fred later became a pastor and got to know Mr. Barrows personally. Fred’s son, Brent, is friends with one of Mr. Barrows’ sons, and his daughter-in-law, Susan, took care of Mr. Barrows’ late wife, Billie, when she had cancer.

After Billie passed away, Mr. Barrows offered his home to Brent and Susan while he was away at Crusades. Fred and his wife, Mary, have been there several times and remember seeing dozens of prayer cards posted on one wall. They were reminders to pray for missionaries around the world.

“He prayed for every one of them by name,” Fred said. “He had a phenomenal memory.”

He was never too busy for people, either. “He always wanted to meet people. He never hurried away.”

—Pastor Frederick Meyers

Still the Same Cliff

As members of Calvary Church, where Mr. Barrows attended, John and Nimmi had the pleasure of seeing him occasionally. Just a couple of months ago, Mr. Barrows went up front to lead the benediction at church—a benediction he wrote himself called “May God’s Blessings Surround You Today.”

They noticed it was a little difficult for him to get up the stairs with his cane, but “when he was singing, he was still the same,” Nimmi said. “He had the same enthusiasm.”

Though they didn’t know Mr. Barrows personally, John and Nimmi said they saw him several times in previous Crusades. They attended the Charlotte, North Carolina, Crusade in 1996 where their son-in-law accepted Christ.

Just before the memorial service began Tuesday, John watched a large choir take their seats up front as the audience prepared to celebrate Mr. Barrows’ life.

“I’m hoping to experience a glimpse of heaven here today,” he said.

—John and Nimmi Manoharan

Coming Full Circle

In 1957, Elizabeth’s grandmother played the organ for Billy Graham’s New York Crusade in Madison Square Garden.

“She always thought the world of Cliff Barrows,” Elizabeth said, recalling what her grandmother has said about that Crusade over the years. “Every time he would speak to the choir, it was always so uplifting.”

Over 50 years after that Crusade, in 2008, her grandmother got to meet Mr. Barrows and his wife, Ann.

“It completely made her day. She just talked about it for years after that,” Elizabeth said.

Her grandmother is now in a nursing home, but the family connection to Mr. Barrows has continued. In 2011, Elizabeth and the Calvary Church choir got to record the benediction with Mr. Barrows, and on Tuesday, Elizabeth had a special role in his memorial—she played the piano during the service.

She was only slightly nervous.

“You want to do a wonderful job for such a wonderful person.”

—Elizabeth Hildebrand

A Domino Effect

Mr. Barrows will never know the reach of his ministry as people he impacted continue to impact others.

Mark, pastor of First Baptist Charlotte, grew up watching Billy Graham Crusades on TV. In 2009, two staples in Billy Graham’s ministry—Mr. Barrows and George Beverly Shea—visited Mark’s church in person to help host a Christmas program. Mark remembers them sitting at the front of the church, sharing life stories.

But that kind of moment was rare. Mark tried asking Mr. Barrows about his life several times when he visited Mark’s church, but Mr. Barrows always turned the conversation back to Mark. That was his way—divert attention away from himself to focus on others.

“I try to practice that as a direct result of Cliff,” he said.

He also spoke of Mr. Barrows’ “spirit of encouragement” throughout his ministry.

“Everything that was said at today’s memorial was what I saw and experienced [with Mr. Barrows],” he said. “I’m just honored to have the privilege of knowing him.”

—Pastor Mark Harris

Cliff Barrows family singing with audience
What’s a Cliff Barrows memorial service without singing? Here, his daughter, Bonnie Barrows Thomas; grandson, Ben Thomas; and son of Ann Barrows, Tal Prince, take a moment to sing softly with the audience.